An Interview with Chokwe Lumumba, mayor of Jackson, Mississippi
There are not a lot of mayors in this country who are willing to use the word “revolutionary” to describe themselves. But Chokwe Lumumba, the new mayor of Jackson, Miss., civil rights lawyer, and former president of the Republic of New Afrika, comes by the term honestly. At the Neighborhood Funders Group conference this November, he opened his welcome with a story about arriving in Mississippi with a group of African-Americans who had purchased land to settle on in a collective, and having to pass through an armed roadblock of Klan and police first. Lumumba sees his work as mayor as direct extension of that group’s goal—creating a community where everyone’s human rights are respected and the will of the people is honored. He sees what might be decidedly unsexy topics like upgrading the city of Jackson’s sewer infrastructure so it can get out from under an EPA consent decree as anti-imperialist measures to keep control of the city’s land and resources close to home. Shelterforce editor Miriam Axel-Lute sat down with him in November to talk about community control of land, democratic decision making, and education reform.
Miriam Axel-Lute: When you spoke at the Neighborhood Funders Group you talked a lot about the importance of controlling the land. That’s something that we talk about all the time, as well. When you’re in administration of a city, what does controlling the land mean? Does it mean municipally owned or nonprofit-owned, or community land trusts?
Chokwe Lumumba: First of all, I think that it means that recognition that the governing authority has at least political jurisdiction over the land mass that the people of the jurisdiction live in. I think you start from there. You have to make the governing authorities responsive as possible and derivative as possible of the people’s wishes and best interests.